For the past two years, John Ribiero has been going from hall to hall, coffee table to coffee table and person to person detailing his concerns and outright opposition to a casino in East Boston and Revere.
Heâ€™s given hundreds of talks â€“ which are mostly informational in nature and detail the other side of the coin, or poker chip, if you will. Heâ€™s spoken as close by as Winthrop to as far away as Holliston.
However, the former Revere restaurant owner (Jonquilleâ€™s Diner) has yet to be invited to Revere, until this week.
On an invitation from the Immaculate Conception Parish, Ribiero â€“ an Eastie native who now lives in Winthrop â€“ appeared Monday night at IC and spoke to a small group of parishioners (and some paid casino advocates in the audience) about the dangers of having a casino in oneâ€™s backyard.
â€œDonâ€™t let them tell you itâ€™s a done deal,â€ he told them. â€œAll of the politicians have lined up for it, but the people still have a voteâ€¦Weâ€™re going to defeat it in East Boston, at least on the first vote, but they can come back again until it passesâ€¦People I talk to are about 50-50 on it at first. Then when you talk to them about their concerns, they open up a lot more. The more people talk, the more they arenâ€™t so much in favor of it. Iâ€™d say itâ€™s 4-to-1 against it now â€“ at least with the people I talk to and thatâ€™s certainly not everybody. Like I said, a lot are for it at first, and then when you ask them about their concerns, they rattle off a list.â€
And getting people to talk about the issue and think about it critically is just what Ribiero said he is trying to do, rather than having people scared into rubber-stamping it due to political pressure or intimidation. He said if people consider it carefully and still approve it, he feels that at least there has been more of a dialogue than currently exists right now â€“ especially in Revere where most suppose that the referendum vote will cruise to an easy victory the first time out.
In fact, Ribiero â€“ a former probation officer in East Boston Court – came to his opposition through just that kind of thought process.
â€œIâ€™m not against gambling at all,â€ he said. â€œI really just came to this issue because I grew up in East Boston and got tired of sitting in traffic all the time. I called my senator, and didnâ€™t get any answers to my questions. Thatâ€™s when I decided to do my own research.â€
Father George Szal of IC said the church invited Ribiero on the request of some parishioners and because of philosophical differences the parish has with the idea of a Suffolk Downs casino â€“ which would fall within the parishâ€™s boundaries.
â€œI have a couple in the parish that asked me to invite him and were very interested in hearing what he had to say,â€ said Szal. â€œOf course, I donâ€™t believe in gambling. I think itÂ hurts the community, hurts families and destroys people. We have scratch tickets left on our lawn every day from the Tedeschiâ€™s across the street and Iâ€™ve counseled wives whose husbands have ruined their families with such things. So, I donâ€™t think too highly of a casino.
â€œPlus, Iâ€™m from Detroit and we had casinos that came in across the river in Windsor and theyâ€™ve not done anything good for the community,â€ he continued. â€œThe same thing can be said for Atlantic City. The casinos were supposed to make that community so much better and that certainly hasnâ€™t happened.â€
Ribiero spoke for a little over an hour and covered just about every topic one could imagine about the possible troubles a casino could bring to Revere. He spoke about the negative effects on local businesses, the possible future abandonment of horse racing, traffic problems and the supposed jobs the casino will bring.
First of all, he detailed how numerous other casinos across the country have reneged on their mitigation promises â€“ something that is very important to Revere, which has already crafted a majority of its mitigation plan that it will present to the casino.
â€œCasinos breaking promises is what plays out around the country,â€ he said. â€œThey make promises and they donâ€™t have to keep promises. If they come up with $200 million or $250 million per year and Revere is asking for more money to help with policing, they wonâ€™t have it. They make promises and the states allow them to break promises because the state is getting a payday.â€
He detailed how Caesarâ€™s Entertainment â€“ which is proposing a partnership with Suffolk Downs â€“ disputed its property tax assessment in Atlantic City and caused them considerable hardship.
â€œThey went to the courts and fought it out and ended up getting $30 million back from their $60 million tax bill,â€ he said. â€œAtlantic City, which is like Revere in size, had to hand over a check for $30 million to Caesarâ€™s.â€
Ribiero also told those in the audience that the casinos will have access to credit reports for anyone who signs up for their wildly-popular loyalty programs â€“ which give free perks for joining. They will also be able to give loans to people based on the value of their car or home, he said.
â€œWhen you walk in and sign up for their loyalty program, they can have access to your credit information; itâ€™s in the gaming bill,â€ said Ribiero. â€œThey know you have that $10,000 credit card in your pocket that you donâ€™t really use. They give you free drinks and a free meal and make you feel like a king for a day in their hotel room, and you end up out $3,000 or $4,000 on that credit card. I may not be a problem gambler, and maybe I can pay what I lost back. However, that will mean that Iâ€™m not going to go out and buy a new car the next day, or head out to dinner locally for a while. A casino cannibalizes the money that would otherwise be used to buy services and good in the local community.â€
The discussion was loose throughout the night, and Ribiero took questions from those in attendance â€“ many of whom said people in the community were scared to voice their concerns or they felt that they owed it to Suffolk Downs to support the venture.
That climate of trepidation was hammered home by the fact that two people paid to advocate the prospective casinoâ€™s interests were in the audience at IC taking notes on what was said and who said it.
â€œPeople are so afraid to come down on the wrong side of the issue with this,â€ said one man. â€œThey are afraid to say they donâ€™t want it.â€
Ribiero said he faces this kind of thing often, but indicated that no one will know what happens in the voting booth.
â€œA lot of people in this area are dependent on elected officials in their lives,â€ he said. â€œThey need permits approved or they need licenses for their businesses, or maybe they work for the state or for the City and feel obligated. They donâ€™t feel comfortable airing their concerns publicly. Fine with me, Iâ€™ll come in the back door and leave through the back door, and they can still hold their signs on Broadway and go into the booth and vote the way they want with plenty of information.â€
After several questions, he concluded with his opinion of the stark reality that a casino brings to oneâ€™s backyard â€“ what he termed the real economic development package.
â€œOur elected officials have given up on any economic development in Revere and Eastie,â€ he said. â€œTheir economic improvement plan for Revere and Eastie is to give people who have been drinking too many free drinks loans on their cars and houses so they can gamble that money in a slot machine.â€
For more information on Ribieroâ€™s organization, visit â€˜No Revere Casinoâ€™ on Facebook.